Voices: Joseph Lowery

Under-the-radar signings: 8 newcomers you should be watching


We know the stars – the big-money players who arrived in MLS over the winter with plenty of fanfare. Luis Suárez, Emil Forsberg, the LA Galaxy’s wingers, and high-profile youngsters like Federico Redondo and Pedro de la Vega all fit into that category.

But while we all fawn over the latest Galaxy goal or Forsberg through ball, let’s not forget about the sneaky-good new arrivals. Today, I’m diving into a handful of recent imports who might have flown under the radar but deserve your attention.

Let’s get to it.

After joining from Japanese top-flight side Kawasaki Frontale, Miki Yamane has played every minute of the LA Galaxy’s 2024 season.

He’s been both available and reliable at right back, two extremely valuable traits for a team that leaked 67 goals last year and is hurting for in-prime defenders. The 30-year-old doesn’t bring the same flashy on-ball abilities as Joseph Paintsil, another off-season addition, does on the right side of Greg Vanney’s attacking structure. But you know what the Japanese fullback brings in spades to the Galaxy’s attack? Balance.

With and without the ball, Yamane almost always picks up complementary spots in the Galaxy’s shape. When Paintsil tucks inside, Yamane shifts wider. When Paintsil shifts wider, Yamane tucks inside. You can see that dynamic unfold in this clip from LA’s high-octane 3-3 draw with St. Louis last month:

Vanney has even used Yamane as an auxiliary central midfielder in buildup at times this year, pushing Mark Deglado high into the right halfspace and clearing the wing in the process. He won’t dazzle, but Yamane has already become a key cog in a dangerous Galaxy team.

Atlanta United fans, brighter days are here.

After signing Tristian Muyumba in last year’s summer transfer window, Atlanta United finished their midfield rebuild by adding Polish international Bartosz Slisz to Gonzalo Pineda’s double pivot during the offseason. With four starts already this year (and a trip across the Atlantic with another two starts to help his country qualify for this summer’s Euros), the Legia Warsaw alum has shown a penchant for ball progression.

Muyumba can move the ball, but Slisz leads Atlanta's central midfielders in both progressive passes and progressive carries per 90 minutes, according to FBref. The 25-year-old often ventures ever-so-slightly further forward on the right side of the double pivot than Muyumba on the left, but the two have developed an effective give-and-take even in the season’s early stages.

Not everything is clean and crisp yet for Slisz, but he plays at a high tempo. The talent level in Atlanta is higher than it’s been in a long, long time.

Álvaro Barreal’s move from Cincinnati to Cruzeiro in Brazil has been criminally under-discussed since it became official on March 1. Barreal was a top-10 chance creator in MLS last year and gave the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners an incredible secondary option in possession alongside Luciano Acosta.

Luca Orellano is the Barreal replacement. The 24-year-old has plenty in common with his predecessor – they’re both from Argentina, they both played for Vélez Sarsfield and they’re both former wingers. But Orellano isn’t the same thoughtful, probing presence on the left side of Pat Noonan’s backline. He will drift inside like Barreal occasionally, to the point where it’s clear having the left wingback move centrally to create an overload is an intentional part of Noonan’s gameplan. He can also create chances with clever, well-weighted passes, much like Barreal:

But Orellano, at his core, is a pure shot of adrenaline. He wants to take defenders on one-v-one and burst past them in the open field. So far this year, Orellano is averaging 5.71 take-ons per 90, which is way up from Barreal’s 3.04 last year. He’s also averaging a higher successful take-on percentage (58.3% vs. 43.2%) and fewer crosses (4.76 vs. 7).

While he’s a different player than Acosta’s last sidekick, Orellano clearly brings value to his new team.

He’s not Hugo Lloris or Eduard Atuesta – and he won’t play as many minutes as those two in 2024 – but David Martínez shouldn't get lost in the list of LAFC’s key offseason additions. The 18-year-old was billed as one of Venezuela’s best young players when he signed this winter and has lived up to the hype across five substitute appearances for Steve Cherundolo and Co.

The kid is unreal in the attack, where he’s largely played as an inverted right winger. Few MLS players of any age have the same mastery over the ball that Martínez does with his left foot. He’s insanely smooth and can create separation with quick touches that lead to either a key pass to a teammate or to a shooting opportunity for himself:

There’s more maturing for Martínez to do, especially after picking up needless double yellows in LAFC’s 3-2 loss at the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. But to my eyes? Martínez looks like one of the best teenagers to ever set foot in MLS. With his ball-striking, close control and vision, he’s must-watch, folks. Don’t be shocked if he ends up eating into Cristian Olivera’s minutes as soon as the summer.

New York Red Bulls manager Sandro Schwarz and new playmaker Emil Forsberg are two of the primary factors behind the Red Bulls’ sudden affinity for a bit of patient passing. They’re hitting 25+ more short passes per 90 this year than last year.

Along with his coach and his captain, Noah Eile is one of the most important figures behind that transition, too.

The 21-year-old Swede arrived in relative anonymity after playing two seasons for mid-table Mjällby in the Allsvenskan. It took no time at all for Schwarz to thrust Eile into the lineup, though, with the 6-foot-5 center back starting from the jump. The dude hits dimes with his right foot, sparking attacking opportunities for his teammates higher up the field. Here is one of Eile’s line-breakers:

And here’s one of his lovely clipped balls over the top:

Eile has the ball on a rope in a way that so, so few center backs in the world do. I’m not sure the Red Bulls’ shift towards an occasional spell of possession works without him prompting attacks from deep.

Okay, okay, I’m a sucker for lanky deep-lying players hitting smooth, line-breaking passes. Sue me.

Also 6-foot-5, Djibril Diani signed for Charlotte FC back in February. The 26-year-old has spent time in Switzerland, Scotland, and the French Ligue 2 (which is increasingly a place where MLS teams look to scout and sign talent). Through his three starts on each of the last three weekends, Diani played as half of Dean Smith’s midfield double pivot next to Ashley Westwood.

With his big frame, Diani can cover a ton of ground in the heart of Charlotte’s 4-4-2 defensive shape. But he also has a sweet left foot that can punish opposing teams the second their defensive pressure lapses:

Charlotte FC look like a stronger, higher-upside team this year than ever before. Diani is a big part of that.

Real Salt Lake find more value in the American lower divisions than any other club in MLS.

Fidel Barajas, who shined last year in the USL Championship for the Charleston Battery, joins Diego Luna in RSL’s budding stable of second-tier attacking standouts turned first-division playmakers. Turning 18 later this month, Barajas is more creator than scorer on the wing. He thrives in tight spots and can pick out a pass at a moment’s notice.

In Barajas' first start of the season for RSL two weekends ago against Vancouver, manager Pablo Mastroeni used him as a left winger. After notching a pair of assists, it’s safe to say the Mexican-American repaid his manager’s trust:

There’s work for Barajas to become more of a dual threat in the attack. But when you watch through balls like the one above, it’s easy to see why Mexico and the United States both want the youngster suiting up for their youth national teams. He’s just not daunted by the speed of play increase associated with jumping up a tier.

Matti Peltola is a grinder.

D.C. United general manager and chief soccer officer Ally Mackay specifically highlighted the 21-year-old’s “defensive intuition” when the club signed him from the Finnish top-flight back in February. So far, it really has been Peltola’s defensive work that’s helped him stand out.

Playing as the deepest midfielder in Troy Lesesne’s tactical setup (which has typically looked like a 4-3-3 this season), Peltola covers a ton of ground and sweeps up in behind his more advanced midfield teammates. According to FBref, he leads the league in successful tackles (16) and is fourth in MLS in tackles plus interceptions, only behind Diego Gómez, Yuya Kubo and James Sands. Each of those three players has played at least a few more minutes than Peltola in 2024.

He’s not a game-breaker on the ball, but Peltola does so much of the dirty work that makes this year’s D.C. United team tick. Flip on a D.C. game at some point this year, zero-in on the No. 6, and give thanks that he’s doing all of that running instead of you.